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City, volunteers working together

Boards covering the bay doors on the front of the Nansemond-Suffolk Volunteer Rescue Squad’s building are perhaps the most visible sign of an improving relationship between the squad and city government.

After several years of policy decisions that reduced the volunteers’ ability to run calls, things appear to be reversing, said Chief Rusty Hundley.

“We’re getting there,” he said. The volume of calls the squad currently runs is “not quite” what it used to be, he said, but it’s continuing to improve.

In 2013, city policy changed and made the squad a second-run organization, meaning its volunteers would only respond when all city crews in the downtown area were busy. That reduced the squad’s calls significantly.

Its calls were eliminated entirely early in 2015, when the city began enforcing a policy that required higher qualifications for crew members than the state requires.

But many of the volunteers did not give up, Hundley said.

“The most inspiring thing to me is the volunteers that did stick around hoping the day would come when we’d get back in service,” he said.

That day did come. City Manager Patrick Roberts said he received clear guidance from members of City Council to work to improve the relationship not only with the rescue squad but also with the city’s volunteer fire departments.

“There’s a real consensus we get a lot of value out of the services they provide,” Roberts said. “It was just a matter of making time to sit down and talk through each of the issues.”

Hundley said 13 volunteers have gone through the class to become certified at the level the city required. That required nearly a year of twice-weekly classes at Tidewater Community College, rotations in the emergency department at local hospitals and certain numbers of different types of calls while volunteering, Hundley said.

The city paid for the class, he added.

In another improvement, Fire Chief Cedric Scott gave the squad its own run territory in a first-out capacity. That started on Dec. 1, 2015.

“I think that shows my commitment to them and my wanting them to be a part of this community,” Scott said. “I’m interested in seeing that relationship continue and getting stronger in the years to come.”

As for the construction going on at the squad’s Market Street building, that’s another sign of better relations between the two entities.

The city is paying for upgrades to the building that will allow one of its ambulances and several crew members to be stationed at the building during renovations happening at Station 1, just down the street.

The bay doors needed to be taller to allow the city’s ambulance to fit through them, so that’s just one project the city is paying for. It has also installed call screens throughout the building so that crew members can see details of calls before they leave. Electrical and lighting improvements and a pass card security system are also among the upgrades.

“Gerry Jones has been wonderful to work with,” Hundley said of the city’s director of buildings and capital improvements. “We’re certainly appreciative of the building upgrades.”

Roberts said he is pleased with the changes that are happening.

“I would say it’s going pretty well,” he said. “This is indicative of how much we value volunteerism — individuals and the many volunteer organizations we have in the community.”

Scott also said he appreciates the volunteers’ willingness to work together.

“We were already working side by side,” he said. “We’re at emergency scenes together. But to have the opportunity to be in the same building and share the same space, that’s going to contribute to an improved relationship and a better relationship.”